Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Pay cut law will require 'a fix'

Legal challenges could arise to the extension of some state salary decreases

By Derrick DePledge


With their pay freeze extended, state lawmakers have promised to fix technical flaws in the law that could make it vulnerable to legal challenge.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law on May 26 that extends a 5 percent pay cut for lawmakers, the governor, the lieutenant governor, state directors and judges through December 2013. The pay cuts, approved two years ago during the recession, were set to expire at the end of June.

But the administrative director of the courts and the director of the state Department of Human Resources Development have warned lawmakers that the law could be unconstitutional.

The law could be challenged because it may not apply equally to all salaried officers, as required by the state Constitution. A new salary commission is expected to make pay recommendations for officials of the executive and judicial branches starting in July 2013, a potential conflict with the law, which extends the pay cuts through December 2013.

State House and Senate lawmakers were unable to fix the bill in conference committee before the end of the session in May but plan to take it up again next session.

Some lawmakers wanted Abercrombie to veto the bill, forcing lawmakers to either come back for an override session to improve it or allow the pay cuts to expire.

But Abercrombie signed the bill with the understanding that the law would be amended next session.

"Definitely, we'll be looking for a fix," said state Sen. David Ige (D, Aiea-Pearl City), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

State Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Chinatown-Downtown), chairman of the House Labor and Public Employment Committee, said his intent is to try to address the problems next session.

"There were multiple problems with the bill, and there was no agreement on how to resolve them," Rhoads said of the conference committee negotiations.

The pay freeze issue was one of several that could have triggered a special session this summer. The state Council on Revenues' decision in May to leave its revenue forecast intact prompted the governor to announce that he would not call for a special session on the state budget.

The Abercrombie administration has told House leaders that the governor would likely call a special session only if the actual fiscal year-end revenues come in more than 2.5 percent down.

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